Trump’s Pennsylvania ally lifts 2020 election audit plan

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Following in the footsteps of Republicans in the Arizona Senate, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate is considering an investigation into how last year’s presidential election unfolded, a quest fueled by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that fraud was behind his loss as a battlefield.

Any subpoena issued by the Senate for an Arizona-style “election audit” will face stiff opposition from Democrats, legal questions, and almost certainly challenges in Pennsylvania courts, as battles over electoral laws rage through the Swing States and Congress, spurred on by Trump’s lies.

Republicans in the Senate have mostly remained silent on their internal deliberations.

Senator Doug Mastriano, a rising force in ultra-conservative Pennsylvania circles who has spoken of his desire to bring an Arizona-style audit in Pennsylvania, conducted a private briefing for Republican senators on his plan on Wednesday.

In Arizona, the State Senate used its subpoena power to take possession of more than 2 million ballots and the machines that counted them, as well as computer data.

Mastriano also sought legal advice from a Philadelphia-based law firm about the Republican Senate caucus using private funds to fund consultants and lawyers. The law firm’s response letter, dated Tuesday, was obtained by The Associated Press.

In the letter, the law firm discussed the legality of using money from a private nonprofit organization “to pay the expenses of suppliers, including a consultant and a lawyer” under of a “monitoring inquiry” of the 2020 elections led by the low profile committee that Matriano chairs.

“While we cannot predict how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would decide the matter, in our opinion, with a reasonable degree of legal certainty, Pennsylvania law does not prohibit the caucus or committee from accepting or benefiting from ‘such financial support,’ attorney Bruce S. Marques wrote.

The letter stated that “the aim of the survey is to develop legislation that will improve voter turnout and the integrity of the elections.”

Masstriano did not answer phone calls. During a phone call on Friday, Marks – who did legal work for the Trump campaign after the 2020 election – confirmed he wrote the letter, but otherwise declined to comment.

Mastriano, who chairs the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Operations, could theoretically issue subpoenas to counties with a majority vote of his committee. The Democratic strongholds of Philadelphia and Allegheny County, the seat of Pittsburgh, could be prime targets.

Voting machines, ballot papers and other voter records may be required. The process could cost millions of dollars. In Arizona, Senate Republicans paid $ 150,000 to help pay for the audit, but prime contractor Cyber ​​Ninjas and Republicans will not say who or what organizations are funding the remainder of the operation or how much. it costs.

Matriano, who helped spread conspiracy theories on widespread election fraud, visited Arizona in June to see the audit firsthand.

“We’ll report the information to the Senate leadership, brief them on the way forward, and then hopefully we can come up with an approach here to make sure that every person in Pennsylvania can be assured of having a voice and that matters,” he said. Mastriano told a WEEO-FM radio host last month.

Republican review of election audit in Pennsylvania comes as Trump supporters demand audits and reviews ballots on political battlefields in an attempt to prove that Biden’s victory was illegitimate.

No county electoral council, attorney or state official raised concerns about any widespread voter fraud in the November election in Pennsylvania, a crucial state which Democrat Joe Biden won by more than 80,000 votes., or just over 1 percentage point.

Trump’s efforts to reverse Biden’s victory flatly rejected by courts at all levels, including by judges appointed by the former president. Trump’s attorney general also said there had been no widespread fraud in the United States that would have changed election results.

Senator Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, said she listened to part of Mastriano’s presentation on Wednesday.

“I don’t know the ins and outs. I don’t know who will pay for an audit. I don’t know how much that could be extended, ”Bartolotta said. “I know there are millions of Pennsylvanians who have questions and concerns and there is a lack of confidence.”

She said she wasn’t sure what the next step was. But, she said, she wanted to make sure the cost was not borne by state taxpayers.

“I want to be absolutely certain that everything we do – if anything is done – is done legally and constitutionally,” Bartolotta said.

Critics say an election audit is redundant, given the legal requirements for every county and state to review election results for accuracy and investigate any discrepancies. Democrats, meanwhile, blame Trump and Republicans for spreading election lies that have sowed voter mistrust.

The official rules of the Pennsylvania Senate give its committees broad authority to issue subpoenas to “any public body” in the state.

Senatorial Minority Leader Jay Costa D-Allegheny said he was unaware of a Senate Republican plan, but questioned whether Mastriano’s committee had authority on the subject of elections for legally issue such summons. Traditionally, a different Senate committee has dealt with electoral matters.

Senate Democrats can challenge subpoenas in the state Senate and in court, Costa said.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter and Mark Scolforo at www.twitter.com/houseofbuddy

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